On the 28th of November 2008 I attended a performance of ‘David Copperfield’ written by Charles Dickens at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. The play was adapted and directed by Giles Havergal, who for 33 years was artistic director of the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow. David Copperfield follows the life of a boy, who was orphaned at an early age and experiences considerable hardship. Throughout the story David experiences love and betrayal but I believe the main theme in the story is ambition.
Firstly I would like to comment on how well the actors identified their characters especially the actor who played David himself, although David is played by a fully grown man it is made obvious at the beginning that opposed to playing a fully grown man he is playing a child. This is displayed clearly very early on in the play when we saw David wailing like a child at the front of the stage, to emphasise the fact he was a child his facial expressions and movement where also very childish a good example of this is when he is talking to his Nanny Peggety he tugs on her skirt and looks up to her.
The other actors on stage also treat him like a child and talk to him in a different tone than they would to someone closer to their own age. Another well played role was that of Uriah Heap. From the moment he took his place on stage (even before he started to speak) you could begin to recognise that he was villainous, one of the traits I found particularly effective was how he had his hands up by his chest for a considerable amount of time. He also appeared nervous. Charles Dickens himself describes the character of Uriah Heap as “probably the most consummate villain that has ever existed…”
The stage layout was very well suited to the play. It had some slightly raised areas, another raised area at the rear and a gauze. The two small raised were often used to show the significance of the character for example when David was attending school the school master was nearly always standing on a higher level that the pupils. The set was not very realistic but I think this was how it was intended to be. I think it was more symbolic and reflected the themes of the play for example around the edges of the stage books were piled.
This could be signifying how during his younger years he had a tendency to immerse himself in a book in order to hide himself from the plight of every day life. The lighting and sound was also very well thought out for instance when David visited the seaside there was faint echoes of seagulls in the background accompanied by the sound of the sea. The lighting helped make it obvious who you should be focusing on for example if the narrator was delivering a monologue a spot light would be on him and there would be limited (if any) movement around him and in the background.
Compared all the other plays I have seen the narrator played a totally different role in this one. On Wikipedia it states that a narrator’s role is;
‘Within any story (literary work, movie, play, verbal account, etc.), the entity that tells the story to the audience.’
Although the narrator in David Copperfield does all of this he is also acts as the protagonist in the play as he is narrating his own life which is interesting as he reacts to his own actions, and to some degree I think you can sense his regret. I also found it particularly interesting how as David gets to the age of the narrator they swap roles and the narrator steps in and becomes one of the actors involved.
I believe amongst many messages hidden in the play one of the most important was regret, I feel that whilst looking back you could sense how he regrets some of the paths he had taken in life but accepts them. The actor playing the older David communicates this well by sometimes stepping in and trying to change things himself. I believe this method displays the point well.
I believe the director wanted to change people’s views on the play and make you see it in another light. I believe he achieved this well. I also think he adapted the humour to modern day humour, which was very cleverly done as it was subtle but effective. The audience reacted very well to this and laughed in all the right places, you could tell that they stayed interested all the way through and the general atmosphere of the theatre was amazing.
Overall I think it was a very original piece of drama. Even compared to some shows I have seen in the West End such as ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ or ‘Grease’ it stood out. Probably the most appealing element for me was the idea of having both the protagonist and the narrator as one person. My favourite scene was the opening one as it drew you in to the play and made you want to find out more about David. It also set the scene well and gave you a taster of what’s to come. I would definatly recommend it to other people to see as the acting was superb, the script was well written and the set was memorable.